What to Consider When Tiling Your Bathroom Floor

A construction worker measuring a piece of tile.

Tiling a bathroom floor is something a DIYer of any level of experience can do themselves in just a weekend, as long as they've done their homework. Don't worry—there's not a lot you have to consider when tiling bathroom floors, but the things you do need to know before you purchase the tile will definitely make the project go a whole lot easier and faster. To help things go smoothly, we've come up with a list of what you need to consider when tiling your bathroom floor.

Tear Up or Tile Over?

As you consider tiling your bathroom floor, you'll have to decide whether or not to demolish and tear out the old floor or to install the new tile over the existing flooring. If you already have a tile floor, it should be removed first so that you can have a clean slate.

A bathroom with a vinyl floor, in most cases, means less work because you'll be able to begin your project without having to tear out the old flooring. Even better is if it has a cement foundation below that, because that means as long as the current vinyl is in fairly good shape, you can just tile right on top of it.

If the subfloor is wood, professionals highly recommend that you install backer board before you put the tile down to ensure there will be no stability issues. Not all DIYers agree on this step, though, and some prefer instead to directly tile over the top of the vinyl as they would if it had a cement foundation underneath it. The backer board can be skipped as long the subfloors are stable and the vinyl tile isn't in bad shape (it's not loose and has no major holes or tears). Whichever way you choose is completely up to you.

Removing Obstacles

A construction worker removing a toilet from a floor.

Remove everything you can from your bathroom, especially your toilet, instead of going around it. Even though it's a hassle to remove your toilet and a bit of a nuisance if you only have one bathroom, tiling around a toilet is even more work than pulling it out. If the project is taking longer than you expected and you need your toilet, you can purchase extra wax seals at the beginning of the project so that you can put the toilet back at night and remove it again the next morning. In most cases, though, a bathroom tiling project shouldn't prevent you from using your toilet for more than 24 hours.

If you're ever planning on adding a new vanity or replacing it with a pedestal sink, you should see if it can be removed. If it's too hard to uninstall and replace, just make sure that you have enough tile and grout that you can finish tiling that portion of the floor at another date. Keep in mind that this will be a lot of work to do later. You'll likely have to re-grout the entire floor so it all matches, and if you do run out of tiles they may not be available anymore.

Dress Rehearsal

If you don't want a headache later from some unexpected issue, planning how your tile is going to fit and look is a step that shouldn't be skipped. This step is called "dry fitting." To dry fit your bathroom floor, lay the tile on the floor in whatever pattern you want and then look for obstacles, such as pipes or corners. Being able to measure and precut some or all of the tile during this dry fit will save you a lot of time when it comes to the actual gluing down of the tiles.

When planning around your shower or tub, use full tiles in this area, as it will look better than having half tiles here. Planning it with the full tile along the shower means that the tiles cut into fractions will be on the opposite wall—one that is usually a lot less noticed.

Sheets or Individual Tiles

A tile floor being installed.

Sheets of tile have become very popular for use in bathrooms lately. They look good on the wall or on the floor, but better yet, they're easier to install and break less often than individual tiles. Most sheets, also called mosaic tiles, come adhered to a piece of 12 x 12 paper or plastic mesh that's easy to cut to the size you need. The tile itself is also easier to cut than the larger, individual tiles, and usually just takes a pair of tile nippers to cut into the right length or shape.

If you have a large bathroom, purchasing a special blade for your table saw or angle grinder is also an option and will make the job go faster. A wet saw in most cases is not needed. When using mosaic or sheet tile, buy one or two sheets of tile to practice cutting on. These test pieces can be used later as filler pieces where needed.

There isn't much of an advantage to using individual tiles over mosaic tiles, other than for design purposes. For example, most sheets of tile are very small and for some bathrooms small tiles are not a good option. Also, there's not a lot one can do about the pattern with the mosaic tiles unless it's built into the sheet. With individual tiles you can choose to add some decorative pieces to break up the the color, or you can simply lay them in a different pattern to make the room look longer, larger, or just more interesting.

Dry or Wet: Which Grout Is Best?

When putting a tile floor in a large bathroom, grout is best purchased in dry form. It's less expensive this way since you can mix it as needed and it won't dry up as you go. You'll also usually have some leftover for any time in the future that you may need to regrout an area.

For a smaller bathroom, premixed grout is better. It's easy to apply since it's ready in the bucket and it's less expensive because you only have to buy a small pail of it and not a large bag that you won't likely ever use up. The other advantage both cost-wise and time-wise is that most brands of premixed grout have a sealant added, so once you've grouted, you're done.

Tiling your bathroom floor isn't as hard as it may sound, especially if you've done all the prep work far enough ahead of time. Preparing to lay your tile floor is often the longest part of the process. Once it's ready to go, gluing the tile down and spreading the grout will be over in no time and you'll be surprised at just how quickly you have your bathroom back.